Con man caper ‘Catch Me If You Can’ swaps Spielberg for the stage

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Photo by Carol Rosegg

Broadway’s new musical “Catch Me If You Can” is a tale of deception and impersonation. And it’s completely true.

The Tony Award-nominated show, currently playing at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, tells the story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who became a master at forgery as a teenager. Abagnale’s story inspired Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film, “Catch Me If You Can,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the famed con man. The movie eventually caught the attention of Broadway composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who wanted to make something more of this uncanny true story.

“(They) were inspired by the scene in the movie where Frank Abagnale, Jr. is walking down a plane tarmac with all of these stewardesses on his arm,” actor Ben Laxton said. “They’re all linked and stepping in time, and (Shaiman and Whittman) were like, ‘We could make a musical out of this.’”

And they did, using a good portion of the film’s plot and in turn Abagnale’s autobiography.

“It sounds really glamorous,” Laxton said. “We paint it to be really glamorous, but at the same time, he’s very lonely. He’s trying to put all of the pieces of his broken life together. So while it’s a really fun, glamorous story, and you’re enjoying all of the lights, music and dancing going on around him, you just really fall for his character and his situation.”

Frank’s scheme is eventually compromised when FBI Agent Carl Hanratty catches on to all the fake checks and becomes determined to lock up the young con. On his manhunt, Hanratty is accompanied by three agents, one of whom is Laxton’s character, Agent Johnny Dollar.

“Agent Dollar is the young, new guy, and he is a little trigger happy,” Laxton said. “He’s the wild card. (His team) doesn’t really know what he’s going to do because he just wants to find an excuse to shoot his gun.”

Performed in the fashion of a 1960s variety show, “Catch Me If You Can” features musical numbers from many genres. Tunes like “Live in Living Color” and “Jet Set” have the typical “shoo bop bop” sound of the 1960s, much like Shaiman and Wittman’s music in “Hairspray.” Others like “Fly, Fly Away” are slower ballads with heartfelt lyrics. “Butter Outta Cream,” a duet between Frank and his father, takes a different musical tone.

“(It’s) a Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin kind of song,” Laxton said. “There are showgirls with feather fans and sparkly shoes and two guys singing this awesome swing number.” 

This week’s performances are part of the first national tour for “Catch Me If You Can,” which began last October. The cast has been performing for the majority of those nine months, aside from a few week-long breaks. Fortunately, the cast’s chemistry makes traveling more of a joy than a necessary evil.

“We all get along really well, and we’re going to some great places, so it feels like we’re going on vacation with 40 of our closest friends,” Laxton said. “Of course, living out of a suitcase is not everyone’s favorite thing to do, but it’s definitely worth it to perform this show every night.”

Though the school year is winding down and finals are quickly approaching, Laxton says Marquette students and faculty should view “Catch Me If You Can” as a worthwhile study break.

“The music’s incredible. The dancing’s great. It’s just a fun show to watch. But at the same time, everyone can find a way to relate to the show because it’s a true story about real people. All of this actually happened. … Everyone can relate to something that’s going on with these characters.”

“Catch Me if You Can” is only in town until this Sunday, so students looking to see its ’60s flair, trickery and Broadway fun should act fast — before it makes its big getaway.

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